“Help! There’s a wallaby in the backyard” effectively sums up my introduction to Australian culture. I had been preparing myself for the descent into Aussie land by watching YouTube videos of the ridiculously cute local marsupials, thumbing through Outback picture books at the doctor’s office and browsing hilarious Melbourne help wanted ads on Craigslist. And now, here I was, a blockade obstructing the only opening between an angry wallaby and his freedom.

My introduction to the culture seemed to be going well. Sam picked me up from my 17-hour flight with a packed travel agenda! We were headed to Warrnambool, a town along the South Coast where I would experience small-town Australia life and gain a proper education in the workings of a mysterious creature called the bogan. January 26th was Australia Day-comparable to our Independence Day, except Australia is technically still under the queen’s rule (there was a proposal to make it into an independent republic with an elected president in 1999, but the citizens voted no), so they celebrate the arrival of the British settlers in the 1700s. It included everything a good nationalistic celebration should-bbq, slip n slide, beer, lots of flags and bogans. They fall somewhere between our version of a redneck and trailer trash, a bogan comes in all shapes and sizes and Australia Day is arguably their favorite day of the year. I’ve interviewed Australians around the globe and here are what the insiders have to say about the bogan:
  • They are extremely nationalistic and can be seen wearing multiple pieces of clothing covered in Australian flags in conjunction with their daily attire of ribbed tank tops and Ugg boots
  • They tend to reside in the country, although there have been spottings of rich bogans living in the city.
  • The genders rarely mix unless in a one on one setting. Men can be found in the barn working on cars and drinking beer and the women busy themselves with cooking, cleaning, caring for children and sharing local gossip.
  • Bottom line: they lack a general sense of culture. 
I’m sure this phenomena exists in every country, it has just become a well-defined and talked about part of Australian culture. The idea of bogan seemed to pop up everywhere and each new Australian I met had something to elaborate on the definition. It also seemed that I had done a lot of bogan activities over the weekend—making a slip n slide, swimming in the river and celebrating Australia Day with my arm covered in Aussie flag tattoos—maybe being bogan wasn’t so bad afterall.

We wrapped up the weekend with a drive along the Great Ocean Highway in route to Melbourne. Just as we were getting ready to leave Sam’s mom’s house we heard the shrieks of a wild wallaby who had just been awaken by Buddy the dog galloping through the back yard. The wallaby was bouncing around uncontrollably crashing into the side of the shed and against the privacy fence. I quickly abandoned my position in front of the gate to distance myself from the wild beast. What would the bogan do? Maybe shoot the wallaby and make wallaby boots, or burgers. What would I do? Luckily, Sam’s mom was already running around the back of the fence and was able to open the gate from the outside. The wallaby spotted the glimpse of freedom and took it, bounding off into the forest. I guess I’m not so bogan after all.

Luke (we stayed with him & his wife Bree in Warrnambool) and me in our bogan australia Day attire
Wallaby spotting!
The 12 Apostales, one Australia's most famous spots along the Great Ocean Highway
_ In the past months I’ve spent more nights sleeping on airplanes than my own bed, hostelbookers dot-com has become my instant online go to and meeting people on trams, trains, planes and sidewalks has become the norm. Yes, I am beginning to realize that this travel thing is deep in my blood and my adventure addiction is not going to be cured any time soon. As you might guess, I’m headed to the airport yet again. This time for the 15 hour, 50 minute journey through 17 time zones and half a hemisphere to the land of koalas, kangaroos and noahs.

As I slowly rack up airline miles and bragging rights for some of the longest flights in the world, I’ve been pondering this travel bug lifestyle and what it means. As you know, I recently visited the Dominican Republic with my family. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort-a little off beat from my typical travel jam, but nonetheless something you’ve got to experience at least once.

I’ve always been lured to developing countries. The grunge, instability, language barrier and oddities of the locals all contribute to a mystery of confusion and obsession which I have been trying to crack. Take Mexico and Morocco for example, two of my favorite places on earth, and I always leave brimming with new ideas about lifestyles and cultures in anticipation of my next visit. Traveling in these places is an intricate dance that involves creativity and avoiding the not-so-developed potholes and curveballs. That’s what I thrive off of.

In typical Ember fashion, I arrived in the Dominican Republic feeling remorseful for the Dominicans and guilty about my luxurious American lifestyle. Here, I was being waited on hand and foot by people who would probably never have the chance to experience a vacation like this. And for me, it was a last minute let’s get away for the weekend decision.  

I’m not saying that I’m made of money or anything, I’m actually pretty close to broke, but the fact that so many people who have touched my life—Mexicans, Palestinians, Moroccans—are in a constant battle to escape corrupt governments, persecution and extreme poverty, and all they did was be born, kills me.

This struggle to understand the injustices in the world has accompanied me every step of the way. How can I account for my obsessive travel when there are others who haven’t eaten in days? Why did I so effortlessly float through college when there are people who can’t read or write because they had to care for sick siblings and tend to the fields?

No, I don’t have an answer. Right now, all I know I can do is attempt to unveil these inequities and spread my knowledge to the world. In my upcoming trek through Southeast Asia my goal is to live as the locals do. Whether that involves trekking through the jungle to find food, playing with children in the street, learning bits and pieces of Thai and Vietnamese or bringing food to the monks each morning, it doesn’t matter. I itch to get off this American pedestal and down to eyelevel with the locals and street people of misunderstood cultures.

I know this doesn’t fix anything, but right now it’s the least I can do to become engaged in a constantly evolving world of poverty and plenty. So here’s farewell to the abundance of America and hello to the bounties of culture, relationships and knowledge.

After over three months traveling half way around the globe, one of my most frequently received questions is about my favorite place. I've covered a lot of mileage, met heaps of great people and had even crazier adventures that it is hard to pick just one place. The past 14 weeks seem like a million small journeys wrapped into one; some similar and some unlike any adventure I could ever dream of.

So, you want to know how it all stacks up? Well here are a few of my favorites along with the stories to go with them (click on the name of each place for the link to the blog post).

Country I most want to return to: Croatia
Favorite city: Budapest (with Amsterdam as a close second)
Most unexpected and craziest country to travel in: Morocco
Favorite place to chill with the locals: Israel
Best hitchhiking adventure: Portugal
Country I would like to live in: Spain

With that being said, they journey is continuing! Tonight my Mom sister and I are headed to the Dominican Republic for a post holiday vacation! I haven't had much too much beach time in the past three months, so a lazy lawn chair and a good dose of snorkeling is exactly what I am in need of. After that I'm headed into the far off pacific and somewhere exotic in Asia...stay tuned for details!

Enjoying a Rocky Mountain Christmas, sledding with my sister